The key underlying principle to be grasped with regard to Exercise is this: The body is a demand-driven, adaptable, living system that requires movement and muscular activity to maintain its function. Observe what happens to someone bedridden in a hospital; muscle mass, flexibility, strength, bone density and range of motion all drop like a downed helicopter, in just a matter of days. The unseen effects are equally damaging; every organ reduces function and slows its activity. Lack of movement is devastating to the human body!
Aging is very much like a longer version of being bedridden. Slowly, over decades, the same decreases in capability occur AND the antidote is the same: MOVEMENT. Start moving and our ability to move will improve. Walk, run, dance, stretch, lift weights, play games that require physical motion and the losses due to aging will reverse to some degree.
Along with this improved ability to move, many other changes take place. Blood sugar levels will regulate downward and remain more even, stored fat will be reduced, insulin sensitivity will improve, blood pressure will come down and your heart will get stronger. Our vascular system will actually start building collateral arteries around blocked vessels, improving blood flow to our heart and other organs. The body’s repair mechanisms speed up, things heal faster, the immune system gets stronger; we get sick less often and we recover more quickly from virtually every malady.
So, lie on the couch, watch TV, drink beer and eat potato chips with all your spare time and the disabilities of aging will overtake you like a Mongol army. You’ve seen the stories of the 92 year old Chinese (or whatever country) man or woman, still tending the rice paddy, wondering what all the fuss is over being that old. They still ride a bike to work and enjoy life with their family five generations deep. One primary difference is that they never stopped moving.
Not all exercise accomplishes the same result. The three primary exercise categories are: Weight Training – to build strength of muscle, bone, ligaments and tendons; Aerobics – to build heart-lung capacity along with endurance; Stretching – to reduce muscle and connective tissue’s susceptibility to damage and lengthen muscles, improving range of motion. You could add to this various sports, dance and gymnastics which improve balance and coordination. I plan to address each of these in my next few articles, beginning today with Weight Training.
The most effective exercise strategy of all for we aging adults is Bodybuilding; Weight Training with progressive resistance. Nothing works to reverse age-related functional decline as well and as rapidly as this. It raises Testosterone production (the hormone of our youth), increases Growth Hormone output, lowers blood sugar, powerfully encourages the burning of fat for energy, improves immune system function, makes bones stronger and more dense, and lets your entire body function on the level of a person decades younger. Make progressive resistance weight training the core of your exercise regime and all other exercise forms will be icing on the cake.
A consistent weight training program will bring a complete revamping of body shape. Arms and legs will grow bigger and more defined, waist size and belly fat will shrink, the chest will thicken and the back and shoulders grow wider, skin will tighten in response. Nothing increases metabolism more than adding pounds of muscle to the body.
A very important factor in building muscle is avoidance of OVERTRAINING. Push too much weight too often and we break down; usually causing an injury, but often just hitting a wall of fatigue that takes away all ambition. It also lowers our immune function so we may just get sick. The answer is to allow adequate time for muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and our central nervous system to completely heal and recover to full (now greater) capacity. If done right, every time we hit the gym we should be stronger!
At some point we may decide that our level of strength is adequate, and at that point we stop increasing the weight, and use the same loads from then on. What will be a big surprise to most is this: one workout every 10-15 days will progressively build muscle as long as we wish to keep gaining. This form of training, Static Contraction Training, I have used in the last two years to become stronger than at any time in my life. I now consider all the previous training strategies I have used in the past to be a terrible waste of time. I love this strategy as well because it takes very little time in the gym; I am in and out in less than 45 minutes, including time in the locker room.
The essence of this method is that we do 5 exercises, each for one single rep, in the strongest, partial range of motion, with the heaviest weight we can hold for 5 seconds before having to set it back on the supports. If in fact we could hold it for 7-8 seconds, then the weight is increased, and we try it again for the limit. For example in the bench press, load the bar after an appropriate warm-up, get positioned under the bar, push it ½ to 1 inch off the pegs, hold for 5 seconds and lower it back on the pegs. There are two workouts consisting of 5 exercises, done on alternate days (up to 15 days apart), all cleverly designed to stimulate maximum muscle growth over the entire body. If you have allowed enough time to completely recover, you will push, pull or lift a bigger weight next time you work-out. If you can’t, then there wasn’t enough time allowed between workouts or the incremental increase was too great. Make the needed adjustment and succeed next time.
Progress is charted every workout, so you know where to pick up next time, and watch with total amazement as strength climbs every time. Because the range of motion is limited to the strongest mechanical advantage, there is very low risk of injury – in two years on/off at this I have pulled or hurt nothing using weights that are truly frightening. From June/09 to Feb/10, for example, my bench press went from a docile 185 lb to 320 lb, while my partial range dead lift (from just above the knees) went from 305 (which I had only done once in my life before) to 505 lb. This was the point at which I said “Nuff”, and started my Garden Railroad project. Now I am making another assault at further growth, and will be reporting my progress periodically.